Commerce Department Sued by U.S. Lumber Producers

Law360 (May 3, 2018, 10:11 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Commerce erred last month when it declined to investigate allegations that Chinese companies were avoiding tariffs on hardwood plywood imports by slightly altering their products, several U.S.-based lumber producers alleged Wednesday in the U.S. Court of International Trade.

“The complaint said companies including Columbia Forest Products and Timber Products Co. sufficiently established that several Chinese producers of the products that were aware of a Commerce Department investigation into the market preemptively altered the materials so they could circumvent the expected tariffs.

“’The department’s determination to not initiate a minor alterations anti-circumvention inquiry … was not supported by substantial evidence, was arbitrary and capricious, and was otherwise contrary to law,’ the complaint says.

“The complaint asks that the court declare that the Commerce Department erred in declining to begin an inquiry and order it to reconsider the decision.

“The Commerce Department said last month that it determined in November 2017 that plywood products with softwood veneers were excluded from the initial duty investigation that ultimately led to the tariffs. As neither the companies nor any other interested party challenged the in’s scope, it would have been inappropriate to subsequently investigate softwood-faced products not within the scope, the department said in a filing.

“’The plain language of the scope, which has its genesis in the petitions, is consistent, clear, and requires subject merchandise to have at least one of the face or back veneers be made of hardwood or bamboo,’ according to the filing.

“The companies contended in February that Chinese producers and exporters hit with an anti-dumping margin of 183.36 percent and countervailing duties ranging from 22.98 to 194.9 percent in January had altered the goods in minor ways to circumvent the duties.

“Commerce announced in November that it was finalizing a pair of preliminary determinations handed down earlier in 2017 after finding that Chinese hardwood plywood had been illegally subsidized in Beijing and sold at unfairly low prices on the U.S. market.

“The case is Columbia Forest Products et al. v. United States, case number 1:18-cv-00098, in the U.S. Court of International Trade.”